The Difficulty with Dependencies
If like me you subscribe to updates from the National Audit Office (one of the best sources of knowledge for lessons learnt with major projects available), you may have had an email bounce into your inbox in the last week with an update on “Managing infrastructure projects on nuclear-regulated sites”. I won’t go into the detail of the background and review; you can read in here if you are interested. I will however look at some of the findings from the report; particularly in relation to dependency and interdependency management. Being able to manage dependencies and interdependencies is critical to the success of any large transformation project, but failure to do so successfully is often a highlight in reports by the NAO.
What are Dependencies?
In the most basic of terms, a dependency is something that has a reliance on something else. From a project perspective, there may be considered three definitions of dependencies.
– Internal Dependencies. These are dependencies that sit within the boundaries of a project and can be managed as such. This may be as basic as tasks within project plans that are linked.
– Interdependencies. These are dependencies on other projects, external to the project that is being delivered but still within the boundaries of the organisation’s environment. This might be an adjacent project within a portfolio.
– External Dependencies. These sit beyond the boundaries of the portfolio; potentially into other parts of the organisation or even outside of the organisation, with legislation being a good example. These are outside of the control of the programme environment.
Within a simple project environment, you are likely only to be dealing with internal dependencies, which any good project management team should be able to manage, or external dependencies, which are beyond the control of the project management team but should be noted and tracked on a dependency register.
The difficulty with dependency management is when you move into a complex portfolio environment, where interdependencies between projects within the portfolio start to come into play.
Transformation Environment and Interdependencies
When undertaking a transformation programme of any type, it is highly unlikely that this can be managed under a single project with a unified project team. It is far more likely to be a portfolio of projects that start and end at different points, are managed and overseen by different teams but it is nearly impossible for these not to be linked in some way. Having to manage dependencies across a portfolio frequently presents several challenges to organisations, including:
– the information about the dependencies is not simply and readily available and they are difficult to identify;
– uncertainty about what types of dependencies exist within the portfolio (e.g. is one project dependency on an output from another or are two projects competing for the same resource?)
– how these should be documented and managed
In my view, the second and third bullet points above can be solved with proven P3M techniques and good project management teams. The key difficulty will always be in identifying what needs to be defined, documented and managed. This is driven largely by the requirements of the projects that are interlinked and being able to see the requirements across the environment.
The Dynamic Environment
Transformation environments are complex spaces with vast amounts of documentation, often contractual, that details what should be being delivered, when and by whom. This is made trickier by the fact that these are not static environments but dynamic; with frequent changes made to what is being delivered.
The key to managing this is to get all of the documents under version control, ensure that all of the requirements and desired outputs are extracted across the domains and also brought under version control to allow all the key stakeholders to be notified of any changes to what is likely to be delivered and when. If you do not have an understanding of this and ability to manage change and churn, this represents a serious risk to any of the projects being delivered on time and to budget.
This is highlighted in the report from the National Audit Office on “Managing infrastructure projects on nuclear-regulated sites”:
“The three infrastructure projects in our review have interdependencies, both with each other and across the Enterprise. The Department did not always build into projects the flexibility to allow for changes. For example, the Department undertook a wider project to determine what the future nuclear reactor core would look like. However, it started building the new CPC facilities without a clear specification of the core design and a full understanding of how the facility would be used. The initial facility subsequently turned out to be too small, contributing to the £146 million total project cost increase”
If the Department had taken a step back, analysed the requirements of each of these projects and understood how they were related, it is highly unlikely (I would hope!) that they would have made the decision to build a facility under the terms of one project without the completed design and specification from another. For all of the projects reviewed in this report, the Department approved the start of a construction phase before the requirements were fully understood. Having to deal with changes such as this later within the project is often costlier and more time consuming – although it may have taken longer to ensure that the requirements were understood, this is offset by the need to go back and start (and pay) again for the construction of a facility that does not meet the requirements.
The importance of understanding dependencies of any form in successfully delivering a transformation strategy cannot be overstated. This relies on being able to see the bigger picture, analyse, understand and manage the requirements, their dependencies and change across the complex environment. If you don’t know what you need on to get the job done, then you won’t be able to get the job done – on time, within budget.
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- The Difficulty with Dependencies
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